“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
— John F. Kennedy
“One, two, three, four…hmm, that's more than I thought,” I say to myself as I look around the first Zoom meeting of the year for Roxo, TCU’s student-run public relations and advertising agency. I was one of the four male students on the 30-person roster for the spring 2021 semester. I squirmed eagerly in my chair — ready to start with the confidence that I could add value to my team and to our clients.
I possess this confidence because of the successful yet selfless mentors who have invested in my academics, my application of PR principles, and my development as a man.
Mentorship takes many forms, but I believe there are a few qualities that each mentor must possess — and what I hope to possess:
A mentor should be an expert in his or her field and enthusiastically share knowledge with you. They should look to guide you without controlling your direction. They understand that sharing their experiences may not help you prevent every mistake, but that these experiences can be useful lessons that impact your decision-making.
A mentor should contribute to your success without doing the work for you. They should offer to broker relationships, share potential opportunities, and introduce you to previously unimaginable experiences.
Lastly, a mentor should be your friend. They should celebrate your successes as their own while also holding you to the standard that you’ve set for yourself. They should challenge you, push you out of your comfort zone, and always lend an ear when you need to talk.
I have experienced these qualities of mentorship through my strategic communication instructors and in several professional mentoring relationships. It is important to clarify; these are not only masculine traits. In fact, quite the contrary. But there is a clear gender discrepancy in public relations. The strategic communication department at TCU alone is 90 percent women. However, I have found this discrepancy to be a blessing for two reasons. First, it has allowed me to really appreciate the male mentors who have invested in me. The second is that the culture of the communications field is built on collaboration and quality of work, not necessarily who is the most macho.
Mentor 1: Russell Mack
This perspective is best exemplified by TCU Professor Russell Mack when he says, “In 40 years as a communication professional, I never felt like it [the gender discrepancy] made much difference. Women have a great chance to succeed as communicators, but not because they’re women. As a man, I just wanted my co-workers to get the work done and my bosses to be fair. Whether they were men or women didn’t matter.” Despite his experience directing communications at top global airlines and writing speeches for former presidents, Mack conducts himself more as a caring father than a tested PR practitioner. He focuses more on building the confidence of his students rather than intimidating them.
Now, this is not to say that I don’t still fear the thought of Mack hurling the Associated Press style book across the room at me when I mistakenly refer to a company as “they” and not “it.” But Mack knows what it takes to be successful and he graciously shares his expertise. I am grateful for his guidance, his authenticity, and his encouragement.
Mentor 2: Steve Levering
It is easy to build a relationship with someone who has achieved your wildest career dreams. It is more difficult when you encounter a mentor who possesses an entirely different skillset. I had Professor Steve Levering for Design, and prior to my first class, I believed my design capabilities were comparable to a kindergartener who just discovered an Etch a Sketch. I was initially scared of embarrassing myself, but what struck me instantly about Levering was how amiable he was. He greeted me each class with a cheerful, “Hey! What’s up, man?” which made a drastic impact on my confidence when seeking out help on my projects.
Levering establishes an environment in his class where you can succeed, regardless of your background, expertise, or identity. He shares, “In my classes and interactions with students, I strive to be fair, and I work to make sure I'm treating everyone the same. Many of my former students have told me that they always felt welcomed in my classes, and I consider that a high compliment.” This is no doubt a reflection of Levering’s character, but it also reflects the overarching attitude of the TCU strategic communication department. “I'm fortunate to have colleagues that value each other, and take time to listen,” he says. “We frequently hear stories about toxic workplaces and I don't ever want to be that guy.” I am grateful for his intentionality, his patience, and his humility.
Mentor 3: Aaron Kokoruz
I am fortunate to have experts investing in my success at TCU, but the impact of MENtorship in my life extends beyond TCU’s campus. Specifically, there are two young professionals who have helped cultivate my interest in a career in public relations. Aaron Kokoruz is a vice president at a top global public relations firm and is a TCU strategic communication alumni. Kokoruz has drastically improved my resume and cover letters, encouraged me to apply for internships that I thought were unattainable, and shown me a path forward in agency life. He relates to me in a way that I hadn’t thought possible through our shared experiences at TCU and our global ambition. I am grateful for his enthusiasm, his attention to detail, and how approachable he is.
Mentor 4: Adam Bond
Secondly, Adam Bond serves as an external communications associate director at a professional services firm. Bond and I have spoken on a monthly mentorship call for well over a year. He solidified my interest in a career in communications from our first call. But his influence extends beyond just sharing his day-to-day experiences. During the course of our one-hour calls, we discuss topics ranging from media pitching and touch points, how to be most effective as a communication professional working in an office full of accountants, and what it is like living in a vibrant city as a young professional. The conversation just flows naturally. I am thankful for his selflessness, his flexibility, and his friendship.
In college, it is easy to default to “me, myself, and I.” Taking time for self-reflection and gratitude is one way that I have found to help recenter myself amongst the stress of internships, grades, and jobs.
These four mentors have elevated my confidence, given me visibility, and shown me what it means to be a man in the communications field. They are experts, they are friends, and most significantly, they exhibit how to be a mentor that has real impact.
I am thankful to have this opportunity to stop and thank the men who make a difference in my life.
Preston Harless is a third-year Strategic Communication major and Spanish minor serving Roxo as an Account Planner. He believes that effective, clear communication is paramount for any successful organization. Preston is an avid soccer fan, a mexican food enthusiast, and feels the most powerful when sporting a double-breasted navy blazer.